Mystery of Australia Mushroom Deaths Has Community Baffled.

Photo: Google Maps. The peaceful scene at the Korumburra Baptist Church where the afflicted family worshipped.
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Two weekends ago, five people sat down for a family meal in a tiny Australian town south of Melbourne, but less than a week later, three would be dead, a fourth fighting for life, and the fifth under investigation for potentially poisoning her guests with wild mushrooms.

But the 48-year-old woman who cooked the lunch says she has no idea what happened, and that she loved her family and wouldn’t hurt them.

The peculiar case has captured national attention, puzzled police, and left a tight-knit community reeling.

The unusual tale began when Gail and Don Patterson stopped for lunch at their daughter-in-law Erin Patterson’s home in Leongatha – a two-hour drive south-east of Melbourne.

With them were the Wilkinsons – Heather, Gail’s sister, and her husband Ian.

All four were much-loved members of the nearby town of Korumburra, where Ian was the local Baptist church pastor.


But it was no ordinary lunch. Hours after the meal, all four guests took themselves to the local hospital with what they first believed was severe gastro.

It quickly became clear it was something far worse, and they were transferred to a hospital in Melbourne to receive the best medical care the state had to offer.

Despite that, Heather, 66, and Gail, 70, died on Friday, and Don, 70, on Saturday. Ian, 68, remains in a critical condition in hospital, awaiting a liver transplant.

Police say they believe the four ate death cap mushrooms – which are highly lethal if ingested. Oddly, Erin is fine.

But beyond that, little is clear. Investigators say they are unsure if Erin ate the same food as her guests, or even if the mushrooms were in the dish that she served.

They also pointed out that she was separated from her husband – who is the Pattersons’ son – but described it as an “amicable” split.

“Nefarious activity” has not yet been ruled out though.

“At this point in time, the deaths are unexplained,” the homicide squad’s Dean Thomas told reporters on Monday: “It could be very innocent, but we just don’t know.”

Ms Patterson says she “can’t fathom what has happened”  Crying as she spoke to reporters outside of her home, she declined to answer questions about what meals were served to which guests or where the mushrooms had come from.

But she did profess her innocence.: “I didn’t do anything; I loved them.”

But also distraught, is Erin.”Gail was the mum I didn’t have,” she said.”They were some of the best people I’ve ever known… I’m devastated they are gone.”

It isn’t the first time the state of Victoria has been rocked by mushroom poisonings, and as foraging expands in popularity, death caps are increasingly mistaken for edible fungus.

They are found in cool, humid climates all over the world, and look far more innocent than a lot of other deadly varieties. Responsible for 90% of lethal mushroom poisoning globally, a piece the size of a coin is enough to kill an adult if eaten.

Although causing the most fatalities the deathcap mushroom has no known antidote.

File photo. The death cap mushroom is one of the deadliest of all mushrooms and there is no antidote.

The symptoms start several hours after ingestion with severe vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pains and can last for a few days; this is followed by what seems to be a full recovery for a few days but ending in death from kidney and liver failure. The main poison, alpha-amanitin, kills liver cells and passes through the kidneys to be recirculated and cause even more damage the second time around.

Sources: BBC News Agencies.
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